Chronic stress is widely believed to accelerate biological aging and have adverse effects on immune function and the inflammatory response. Health concerns, finances, job insecurities, and family and personal responsibilities are the top sources of stress in the U.S., with 25% of the population feeling financially stressed and 80% reporting stress related to employment. While a majority of Americans say they are chronically stressed, many are likely to address high stress levels in unhealthy ways, including increased alcohol consumption and a failure to focus on healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as a nutritious diet, adequate sleep and daily exercise. While occasional stress can be a positive, motivating force, the reality is that we are living in an unhealthy, chronically overstressed society.
Biological stress begins with our basic bodily processes that produce and utilize energy. Most of us may think of metabolism as part of our digestive process, but metabolism is all about energy and includes many life sustaining metabolic processes, including breathing, circulation, muscle contraction, elimination, body temperature control and brain and nervous system functions. Researchers who study the relationship between biological stress and aging suggest a direct cause-and-effect relationship between stress resistance and age-related diseases. According to the National Institutes of Health, age-related damage to DNA and proteins may often be reversible and may not cause problems until the damage evokes a stress response, suggesting that the stress response is the actual culprit when it comes to age-related health deterioration.
As part of the endocrine system, the adrenal glands have multi-functional roles. They regulate and maintain many internal processes, including metabolic functions, immune and inflammatory responses, essential hormone production, electrolyte balance and the fight-or-flight reaction to a threatening or stressful situation. While impaired adrenal function can be related to disorders or medical conditions, chronic stress is believed to be a major cause of adrenal dysfunction. Recognized in many parts of the world, but not yet recognized as a clear medical diagnosis in the U.S., adrenal fatigue is often cited when the adrenals are unable to adequately meet the demands brought on by stress.
Adrenal fatigue or insufficiency is a term applied to a collection of symptoms that may include ongoing cycles of fatigue, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, depression, anxiety, lack of libido and weight and hormonal imbalances. With adrenal fatigue the glands still function, but not well enough to maintain optimal body balance or homeostasis. While identifying the causes of our individual stressors and taking steps to reduce or eliminate them is very helpful and healthy advice, many of us could use a bit of extra support for our very overworked adrenal glands.
By definition, adaptogens are a unique group of traditional therapeutic botanicals that work at the cellular level to aid the adrenals in managing our response to stress. Used extensively for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, adaptogens aid in normalizing body imbalances, supporting homeostasis and providing a sense of calm along with energizing influences. Calming and energizing at the same time? Yes, adaptogens can counteract the effects of mental and physical stress, restore energy, strengthen the immune response and normalize the inflammatory response by adapting to exactly what your body needs. In other words, adaptogens have self-limiting properties — they work hard when we need them and slack off when we don’t. Their broad-spectrum actions can help to optimize the health of the entire body.
To qualify as an adaptogen, an herb must be safe and effective, must have active substances with certain special qualities, must offer no harmful effects and must specifically be able to reduce the effects of mental and physical stress. Adaptogens are available in a single herb formulas as well as in combination formulas. Here are just a few of the more well known adaptogenic herbs:
Rhodiola Rosea – Used in China and Russia since ancient times, Rhodiola Rosea is believed to have many beneficial qualities that help to balance cortisol levels and support cellular energy metabolism, cardio health and healthy brain function.
Ashwagandha – Some of the best known benefits of Ashwagandha include increased vitality, energy and stamina. Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine, Ashwagandha is believed to enhance endocrine function and aid in treating exhaustion brought on by physical and mental strain. In addition to improving stress resistance, Ashwagandha supports immune response, a more regulated sleep cycle and healthy thyroid and nervous system function.
Holy Basil – Also known as Tulsi, this is one of India’s more revered and powerful herbal remedies. Holy Basil is believed to help reduce stress by calming the nerves, lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation. As an antioxidant, Holy Basil helps minimize oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Panax Ginseng – Valued for thousands of years as a medicinal plant, Ginseng is believed to positively influence cellular metabolism, promote longevity, strengthen the immune response and provide an overall sense of wellbeing.
Eleuthero Root – Traditionally used in Chinese medicine to address insomnia, fatigue and impaired concentration, it is also believed to improve memory, support general health and promote feelings of wellbeing.
Astragalus – This traditional Chinese herb helps protect against physical, mental and emotional stress. It has anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties and is believed to support immune health and cardiac function.
Schisandra – This potent general wellness tonic helps to decrease fatigue and promote physical performance and endurance. It is believed to counter stress by reducing the levels of stress hormones in the bloodstream.
Professional Supplement Center offer these and other fine products for adrenal support:
Adapten-All by Ortho Molecular – This unique blend of key micronutrients and adaptogenic botanicals is specifically formulated to strengthen the body’s stress response and support healthy energy levels. Adaptogens include standardized extracts of Eleuthero root, Rhodiola rosea root, Schisandra berry and Ashwagandha root. Gluten, soy and dairy free, vegetarian formulation.
Adaptogen-R3 by Premier Research Labs – This invigorating formula features key nutraceutical blends containing traditional adaptogenic herbs to promote the entire adaptogenic process that includes whole body rejuvenation. Excipient free, vegan formulation.
Adaptogen, Q. by Quantum Nutrition Labs – This quantum-state product features the perfect adaptogenic triple blend. Highly rated for customer satisfaction, this formula is designed for optimal effect. Excipient free, vegan formulation.
Exhilarin® by Metagenics – This formula provides a proprietary blend of time tested Ayurvedic adaptogenic botanicals in support of cognitive function and a strategic stress response. The formula includes Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Amla and Bacopa. Gluten free, Non-GMO vegetarian formula.
How stress affects your health. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx
Seniors. The American Institute of Stress. http://www.stress.org/seniors/
Metabolism: Does stress really shorten your life? https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/biology-aging/metabolism-does-stress-really-shorten-your-life
Stimulating effect of adaptogens. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16261511